Spencer Bates

Spencer Bates


Spencer Bates is a self-taught musician who performs daily. His songs offer satirical musings on pop culture and reflections on finding one’s place in a confusing, sometimes chaototic, world. Spencer guides us with his unique piano playing and versatile vocals. His voice is a remarkable instrument!


It can be a difficult road to fame and fortune. Though he would probably be quick to divert attention away from this truth with characteristic self-deprecation, Spencer Bates surely knows this. Spencer is a solo artist in the most literal sense. He is a singer-songwriter who regularly plays alone, relying upon only his voice and his piano. He also is entirely self-taught. Having said that, music and performance have never been far from his grasp. Spencer devoted much of his time as a teenager to musical theater, where directors were quick to take advantage of his surprising vocal range. During those early years his primary artistic focus was film, which he began studying formally upon entering college.

But the drive to perform loomed large. Inspired by a one-time performance at the end of high school, in which faculty and student musicians alike backed him on renditions of classic pop tunes, Spencer began spending every free hour at the piano, an instrument that he had previously never played. As it happened, he had a natural ability to learn the instrument that matched his innate vocal gift. Some might interpret Spencer's lack of formal training as a handicap. But, to the contrary, it's one of his greatest assets: his melodies are clear, direct, and indelible - refreshingly devoid of any overstudied pretense.

Spencer's first recordings of original music, the full-length Everybody has a Song and the Back to School EP, captured a performer and songwriter still finding his voice. Though saturated with his strong sense for melody, they featured songs that only hinted at his potential. Mostly, they contained fairly straightforward love songs. At this point, as Spencer's piano playing has evolved, so too has his approach to his art: "I prefer writing songs that are more interpretable."

Fortunately, this approach serves both Spencer and his listeners quite well. His new record, Goodnight Rosebud, is not only easily his best to date, but also a startlingly sophisticated step forward. The same knack for melody remains. However, this time Spencer has produced lyrics and arrangements that more than match his inherently catchy songs; they enhance them.

Gone are the straightforward tunes of puppy love and heartbreak - and in their place lie songs that tackle broader and in some cases - as in the triumphant "The Time Must Come" - more political issues. But Spencer chooses not to use his voice for any soapbox preaching. "I don't need to be overtly political. It wouldn't be constructive to alienate anyone." Nevertheless, the song lends itself to political interpretations; crucially, though, in keeping with the album's commitment to subtlety, it never hammers anything down your throat.

Rather, Spencer seems interested in questioning. Tellingly, the album opens with the line "Could it be I was mistaken?" In a way this calls back to his earlier work, where self-doubt and heartache - the domain of teenagers - reigned supreme. But the song, "Back of My Mind," also suggests maturity and reflection, while acknowledging that the trials of early adulthood are every bit as complicated and confusing as those of late adolescence. Musically, the song boasts a far fuller sound than any previous recordings, as strings and ringing guitar nicely complement Spencer's piano. The extent of this album's musical advances doesn't become fully apparent, however, until the third song, "Outside Looking Out."

After a subdued solo piano intro for the second track, "Outside Looking Out" quickly announces itself: over some of the album's most rhythmic piano playing, a low, guttural horn line sweeps in with all the fanfare of a '70s cop-show theme. In a way it harkens back to the sloppy, gritty days of early rock 'n' roll but, like all of Spencer's work, it remains defiantly pop (complete with layered background harmonies). It's the sort of arrangement that, sadly, modern pop music rarely uses. The horns continue throughout the song, crisply punctuating some of the album's most clever lyrics, which mock the frivolity of consumerist, mainstream culture.

One could easily see the song, with its references to "corporate sponsorship" and "status symbols," as a partial reaction to the music industry and Spencer as a man railing against it. But, for Spencer, the music industry brings its own benefits: specifically, top-notch musicians. "I approached Goodnight Rosebud as a collaborative effort. I wanted to feel part of a team. I wanted other people's stamp on it, so I encouraged other musicians' interpretations. Fortunately, I found myself surrounded by creative people."

To illustrate this, Spencer points to the album's seventh track, "Waves," which focuses primarily on a lilting piano melody and voice, but also features contemplative, understated mandolin. When someone came in to contribute mandolin to the song, Spencer had a specific sound in mind, but the player, Skinny McCallister, brought something entirely unexpected: "He played t


Goodnight Rosebud, 2006 (college radio play)
The Back to School EP, DEMO 2004 (college radio play)
Everybody Has a Song, DEMO 2002

Song samples are available at: www.spencerbates.com and www.myspace.com/spencerbates

Songs can be purchased through Itunes and CDBaby

Set List

Spencer's set list varies for each show. He performs every song from all three of his discs, as well as unreleased singles. Spencer performs regularly at piano bars. His cover tune repertoire includes over 500 songs from every genre and time period, including holiday and speciality songs. A cover song list is available upon request. Spencer's original songs include:

The Back of My Mind
Outside Looking Out
The Time Must Come
What's So Bad?
For A Child
Back to School
Living in the Moment
Let It Slide
Lesser Expectations
She Thought of Me
Another Song
Maggie's Mine
All Along
I Will Understand
Not Quite Enough
Just Down the Hall
I See
Just for You and Me
After All
The Only One I Need
Subway Train
Everybody Has A Song
Under Your Cloud